Practice Makes Perfect

Now there's perfection!

Now there’s perfection!

My ears are picking up all the pithy phrases one says when teaching a new skill e.g. “practice makes perfect,” or “it takes 10,000 hours to master” said new skill.  The other day I overheard a chef say to a student “nothing is easy in the kitchen,” responding to her dismay about the difficulty of a task.  I prefer the more helpful, “it’s not hard it’s just unfamiliar,” which allows for a learning curve.   Life is tricky though.  From cradle to grave we must learn to balance exploration with routine.  There are some situations when if not for the short cut it wouldn’t get done at all, but to   achieve mastery requires persistent effort.  People my age can get stuck in a rut of expertise doing what we’re good at day after day.  Life can become very predictable.  We can “phone it in.”  In order to grow we have to learn new skills, explore, challenge ourselves to move outside our comfort zone. However, a two year old child will more confidently walk forth to explore the world from the launchpad of rituals and routines established by loving adults. I always think about when my daughter who at age two first discovered  “Toys R US.”  She walked through there like she owned the place yet every once in a while she’d look back to make sure I was still following her.  The same daughter then left our sleepy town to go to Fordham University in the Bronx at age eighteen.  Foundation/Exploration. Routines ground us, mark our days, provide a sense of security from which we can entertain new ideas or seek new experiences.  Speaking of which, I’m amazed how quickly I’ve fallen into a new routine here at Ballymaloe as if I’ve been here much longer than four weeks.

I’ve discovered at Ballymaloe that like life some recipes require persistent effort while others allow for handy shortcuts.   We learned this week about the painstaking process of making sourdough bread.  There is nothing like a good slice of warm sourdough, but when most of us hear about the effort and not hours but days involved in making a “proper” loaf of sourdough, we rush to the nearest bakery. I could be practicing sourdough for years after I finish the course.  I believe Tim Allen said it has taken him fifteen years worth of effort.  Run for the hills!  I mean bakery!  Yet when I look at my foundation I can see that my wellbeing like a good loaf of sourdough as taken years to build.  I love all the words involved in sourdough too.  Starter, sponge, leavening, fermenting.  You can hear growth and flexibility within those words can you not?  All the elements that, as in life, we require for a good outcome.   And just as we know a good loaf of sourdough, its aroma, taste, and appearance, we also sense when a person is doing the work of life by their presence, depth, and authenticity.  There are times for painstaking efforts and times for shortcuts.  As for bread, try this quick yeast bread first then try your hand at sourdough.  It will be a couple of weeks before I’m able to give the sourdough a go here at Ballymaloe and when I do I hope to share how it goes.

Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread (with translation for my American friends)  BTW we do this by hand, but for this bread it is quite easy.

Makes 1 loaf

Note: You can substitute dried yeast for the fresh.  Follow the same method but use only half the weight in dried yeast (3/8-1/2 an ounce).

400 grams (14 oz or 3 1/2 C stone ground wheat flour plus 50 g (2 oz or 1/2 C white flour).

425 ml (15 fl oz or scant 2 cups water at blood heat (divided)

I made two for more practice.

I made two for more practice.

1 t treacle or black molasses

1 t salt

20 g- 30 g (3/4-1 oz) fresh non-GMO yeast

seeds to sprinkle on top are optional

1 loaf pan brushed with oil

Preheat oven to 230 C or 450 F or Gas Mark 8

In a large bowl mix the flour and salt.  In a pyrex jug (measuring cup) mix the molasses with a half cup of the water having the other 1 1/2 cups close at hand and crumble in the fresh yeast or sprinkle the dry yeast over the water.  Let that sit for a few minutes while the yeast begins to bubble.  After a few minutes you will notice a frothy appearance on top.  When ready, stir the yeast water and the additional water into the flour mixture to make a loose wet dough.  The mixture will be too wet to knead.  Set aside for 7-10 minutes.  Meanwhile, brush the sides and bottom of the loaf pan with oil (I’m guessing cooking spray will do).  Scoop the mixture into the loaf pan.  Sprinkle the loaf with whatever seeds you are using.  Put the pan in a warm place loosely covered with a tea towel to prevent a skin from forming.  Just as the bread is rising to the top of the pan remove the towel and put in the preheated oven for 20 minutes then turn the oven down to 200 C 400 F or Gas Mark 6 for another 40-50 minutes until it looks nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped.  It’s the Ballymaloe way to remove the bread from the pan about 10 minutes before the end of cooking and put it back on its side in the oven so it crisps all around (optional).



5 thoughts on “Practice Makes Perfect

  1. Love this Mick! I’ve been taking violin lessons for a few months, very challenging but one right sound is soooo joyous!
    Love you! Also very proud of you!


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